What does flexibility really mean?

Author Angela Franks
August 30, 2021

This is a tricky but necessary topic. It pops up everywhere we go. Client meetings, social dinners, it’s always in the conversation but it feels like it’s been talked about to death…or maybe just for the HR community.

You can’t talk about attraction, retention or leadership without it coming up. It’s the common thread every time. So what’s the approach, solution and future? 

Frazer Jones in Europe recently hosted a Future of Reward webinar with panelist from Cartier, McDonald’s, ABB and Philips. On the agenda was performance management, mobility, global pay equity and health & wellbeing. But naturally the conversation turns to retention, loyalty and flexibility. On the webinar, from the reward perspective, they felt that managing a 100% remote workforce is easy or 100% in the office but the blended hybrid approach is a lot harder. The discussions begin around pay for those who don’t have to travel and who may live in lower-cost locations within the same city/region. Put simply, it gets messy. There is a lag between salary systems and global tax systems with the speed of recovery seen in various regions or markets. Taxation hasn’t adjusted to remote working and makes it very costly for employers. Managers want to be accommodating for their key employees/contributors but remaining tax compliant is expensive.

There are a number of things we know about flexibility and there are many things we can’t control. We know that employees don’t want a one size fits all approach, they want empathy and customisation to suit their role and personal situation. And this is where it gets difficult as those things don’t always stay the same for long. Conversations our team has had this week with HR professionals include statements like ‘I never thought I’d say this but I just want to be told what days to come into the office’.

Let’s quickly look at the strict definition of flexibility. The Cambridge Dictionary states ‘the ability to change or be changed easily according to the situation’. So the issue we have is HR or Management & Exec teams wanting or needing to define it, create a policy and an expectation. And this is probably the right thing to do especially for the people who are at the point ‘of just wanting to be told’. But is dictated flexibility really flexibility or just a blended working arrangement between home and office.And here is the conundrum. Do you ask people to come in on certain days so you all know you are coming in to see colleagues, leaders, complete strangers in other departments that started during the COVID pandemic?

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